Information on copyright law, rules, and regulations can often be intimidating, confusing, and complicated. The purpose of this article is to give you the basic knowledge you need to understand when and how copyright may exist in your creative works and why you should register your copyright.

What is a Copyright?

A copyright is a legal right bestowed by a government authority that grants protection to the creator of certain types of works or intellectual property. It is a kind of property right, even though it protects intangible property. In the same way that a house, car, or computer can be owned, copyright law provides similar reasons for the ownership of intellectual property or works of authorship.

Copyrights are granted for original works of authorship, including:

  • Literary Works – including books, poems, essays, plays, and spoken works, like speeches
  • Choreography, Dance, and Pantomime
  • Audiovisual Works – including recordings of music, songs, literary works, dramatic works, etc.
  • Visual works – including photos, visual images, maps, illustrations, cartoons and sculptures
  • Architectural Works

Things that cannot be protected by copyright include:

  • Thoughts and ideas – this because they are not fixed. They would have to be embodied in some tangible form to be protected.
  • Facts and data – for example, environmental data or the periodic table of the elements are not copyrightable. Neither are depictions of data that are not original or minimally creative, such as simple tables and graphs.
  • Single words and short phrases – these can’t be protected by copyright. However, they could be protected by trademark law is used by a company, business, or organization as a tagline or slogan. Furthermore, if a single word or phrase forms part of a logo, there may be copyright in the design of that logo.

What Rights Exist in a Copyright?

A copyright gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to copy a work, as well as the exclusive right to:

  • Perform the work
  • Publish the work
  • Translate the work
  • Adapt the work to another format (e.g. a novel to a film, or a film to a play)
  • Record a literary, dramatic, or musical work
  • Broadcast the work
  • Exhibit an artistic work
  • Rent out a computer program or recording of a musical work
  • The right to authorize others to do any of these things

The copyright holder is often the creator of the work, meaning the author, artist, or composer.

The copyright can also be transferred to someone else, for example, to a publisher.

To give you a practical example: if you hired an artist to design/draw a logo for you, your designer will automatically own the copyright in that logo. If you want to own the copyright, you need to ask the designer to assign/transfer the copyright to you. (Trademark Angel can assist with copyright assignments).

Furthermore, there are situations when an employer automatically owns the copyright to works created by an employee.

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

Copyright protection does not last indefinitely. Generally, copyrights in the United States last for the life of the author or creator + 70 years. Copyrights in Canada last for the life of the author or creator + 50 years.

When the copyright expires, the work joins what is called “the public domain”, which means that it can be freely copied or used in any way without the permission of the copyright holder or any payment. For example, there are no longer any copyright limitations on who can perform Shakespeare’s plays or who can copy the Mona Lisa painting.

How do I Obtain a Copyright?

In the US and Canada, copyright does not require registration. Copyright exists in a work as soon as it is:

  • Written down;
  • Saved electronically;
  • Recorded; or
  • Expressed in a tangible way

For international copyright protection to exist, the work must be created in a country, like Canada or the United States, that is a member of an international copyright treaty such as the Berne Convention. These treaties include most countries in the world and ensure that a work created in a member country will be protected in all other member countries.

Why Bother Registering My Copyright if I Have Already Been Protected Automatically?

As mentioned above, copyright is automatic when the work is original, fixed in a tangible form, and when it is created in Canada, the U.S. or other copyright treaty country.

However, in some countries, such as the United States and Canada, you will need to register your copyright if you want to file an infringement lawsuit in federal court and to be awarded statutory damages.

Statutory damages are important because, in some cases, they can be significantly greater than the actual damages you suffer as a result of the copyright infringement.

But, even in countries where copyright registration is not a prerequisite for bringing a copyright infringement lawsuit, copyright registration can be presented in a court of law as prima facie evidence of ownership of work if a dispute arises.

Registering in the United States and Canada

Copyright registration in Canada is made through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, while in the United States, copyright registration is done through the U.S. Copyright Office. In either case, you will generally be required to supply the same basic information, which is as follows:

  • The type of work you wish to register (literary, visual, sound, etc.)
  • The title of the work
  • The status of the work (published or unpublished)
  • The date the work was created and/or published
  • The author’s name
  • The author’s country or domicile
  • What is the work the author contributed (i.e., lyrics, text, music, editing)
  • The copyright owner/claimant information (i.e., the name and contact information of the author or the author’s employer).

An experienced IP professional can help you avoid costly mistakes and register your copyright correctly the first time. For assistance with register your copyright in Canada or the United States, contact Trademark Angel in Canada at 226.246.2979 or visit our contact page to book an initial consultation. Our service is simple and efficient and will allow you to prevent others from profiting from your creativity and hard work.